Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

Interview

Refugee who witnessed Moria fire describes 'hell'

"Yesterday, it was hell. It was hell," said a 21-year old Iraqi refugee who witnessed the EU's hotspot of Moria in Lesbos, Greece burn to the ground on Tuesday night (8 September).

Speaking to EUobserver by phone on Wednesday, Yousif Al Shewaili also said a fight had broken out, given wider fears of Covid-19 contagion.

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  • Moria camp in Lesbos burned to the ground earlier this week (Photo: Yousif Alshewaili)

"There was a fight and the police came with teargas and they shot some teargas and small fires started everywhere around the camp," he said.

Authorities say the fire that raged throughout Moria on late Tuesday night did not result in any casualties.

But Al Shewaili disputes this.

"I met an African guy. He is disabled and he was crying," said Al Shewaili.

"After all the people left only he stayed and I asked him and he said 'I saw them die, two of them'. And I asked him who died and he said 'my wife and my child'. He was there with his stick, looking at the fire and crying the whole night."

EUobserver was unable to verify the account. Al Shewaili is a photographer and posted some of his images of the fire online.

'Hotspot' catches fire

The EU 'hotspot' was created by the European Commission in May 2015.

Late last year, the commission praised itself for the concept - despite documented widespread abuse and violence at Moria.

It claimed the hotspots were an "efficient" means to manage migrants. However, this self-analysis had followed reports of children in Moria attempting suicide.

In January 2017, it admitted the conditions in the camp were "untenable" after refugees woke up covered in snow.

At the time, some 6,000 were at the camp, which ballooned to 20,000 late last year. It is designed for 3,000. Around 12,000 were at the camp before the Tuesday fire broke out.

Moria had also registered 35 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Al Shewaili says those with the virus are fenced off, in a quarantine area.

Others who show symptoms are neglected and are given no medical treatment, he claimed. He said nobody is given face masks as people are forced to live in filthy and overcrowded conditions.

"There is no medical care. It is horrible here, people are dying and no-one is allowed to leave the camp over the past few days. They are just dying here," he said.

As people fled the flames on late Tuesday, most were forced to sleep out in the open. Al Shewaili says others were attacked in a nearby village and that the "police beat refugees".

"No organisation came to give them a blanket, even no water. No one came to take people to the hospital, only one girl came with a van and she took five people to the hospital," he said.

'Long-lasting solution' promise

The European Commission on Wednesday (9 September) announced it was sending immediate assistance to help find accommodation for the most vulnerable.

It has made similar claims in the past, with few practical results, as conditions worsened over the years.

Instead, its "efficient" hotspot in Moria had imprisoned at least one asylum-seeker for almost three years in an administrative nightmare.

At one point, Moria had one toilet for every 200 people. When the pandemic erupted in Europe, it was left without clean water.

The commission has in the past shifted the blame to the Greek authorities, eschewing direct legal responsibility

Now it is sending Margaritis Schinas, a vice-president of the commission in charge of migration, to Athens to figure out what needs to be done.

A Greek national himself, Schinas is also in charge of "promoting the European way of life", a revised title portfolio that some view as a veiled nod to those that oppose migration and asylum seekers.

Earlier this year Schinas said EU support for Greece would be unequivocal when he brushed off questions of Athens suspending all asylum claims for a month.

Schinas was not able to field any questions from journalists in Brussels on Wednesday. That task was delegated to vice-president Maroš Šefčovič.

"My full sympathies for the people of Lesbos and in particular of the inhabitants of the camps and the workers there," Šefčovič told reporters.

Šefčovič said it will be up to the Greek government to identify specific needs under the EU's civil-protection mechanism.

He said the provision of first aid, sanitation, and shelter will be of a priority. Some 400 unaccompanied minors will also now be transferred from Moria to the Greek mainland, he said.

"The commission is committed to finding a long-lasting solution," he said, when asked why it took a devastating fire for it to mobilise the help after announcing Moria's conditions were untenable over three years ago.

Greek migrant hotspot now EU's 'worst rights issue'

The 14,000 migrants trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos has been described as "the single most worrying fundamental rights issue that we are confronting anywhere in the European Union" by the head of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency.

Asylum seeker stuck almost three years in Moria camp

Anny Nganga, an asylum seeker from DR Congo, has been surviving for almost three years in Moria, a camp on Lesbos island that was recently described as the "single most worrying fundamental rights issue anywhere in the European Union".

EUobserved

Moria is EU's shame

The European Commission will attempt to spin its way out of bearing any responsibility for the disaster that is Moria. Piecemeal efforts to help those in Moria will not resolve a policy Brussels created.

New EU migration pact 'to keep people in their country'

The European Commission's long-awaited pact on migration and asylum is now set to be unveiled on 23 September. Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas has likened it to a "house with three floors".

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